Sumo Citrus the Sequel: How Sweet It Is

David Hinckley
3 min readJan 26, 2024

As I was standing in my kitchen this morning, eating a Sumo citrus that I will probably never stop casually calling an “orange,” four thoughts ambled through my head.

1. This Sumo is great.

2. Those of us who write for a long time sometimes wish we could go back and fix something we wrote.

3. I’m more confused than ever about the difference between a Sumo and a Honeybell.

4. This Sumo is great.

Sumo citrus.

A few days ago I was musing here about the blizzard of choices in the fruit world these days, occasioned by my trying a Sumo and concluding it was very good, not great.

Well, this morning’s Sumo was great. Did I say that already? It was deliciously sweet, with no aftertaste. It was as good as citrus gets and I now better understand why fans pay $3 or more to acquire one.

That’s where thought #2 kicked in, because over a half century working for newspapers, I wrote a number of things for which I could use a do-over.

Around 1984 I wrote that by 1985 Madonna would be forgotten. In 1997 I wrote that Marge Ganser of the Shangri-Las had died. I got a call that morning from Marge Ganser saying she was alive and it was her twin sister Mary Ann who died.

That’s the kind of big stuff you wish you could go back and erase. But there’s also more nuanced stuff, like assessing Sumo citrus.

My impression of my first couple of Sumos wasn’t wrong. They were very good, not great. But I now suspect something I considered a possibility before is even more likely: Between the time they were picked in California, hauled cross-country and put on display in a New Jersey supermarket, some of the sweetness dissipated. While I lack the data to prove that or any other theory, it does seem generally true that the shorter the interlude between fruit being picked and fruit being eaten, the more likely it will have peak fruit flavor.

I’m pretty sure this morning’s Sumo had more recently been hanging on a Sumo tree, since it came directly from the Sumo organization and thus skipped the middleman of the grocery store. It was provided by a very nice woman who represents Sumo, and if that raises questions about my journalistic objectivity, I say hey, it’s a piece of fruit. It tasted great. I sleep well.

Less clear-cut to me is the almost eerie kinship between Honeybells and Sumos, which comes to mind because by coincidence we also got a box of Honeybells this week, from a friend in Florida.

They tasted great, in many of the same ways the Sumos tasted great. Same adjectives and everything.

They also look similar. Actually, to me, they look the same:

Left, Sumo. Right, Honeybell.

I know the botanical difference. Honeybells are a cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit. Sumos are a hybrid of Satsuma, orange, and mandarins. That is markedly different root stock, which doesn’t explain why they should emerge tasting good in so many of the same ways.

They just do. As for whether one is better than the other — you know, your desert island citrus — my inner idealist says it’s not a competition. There’s as much room in the world for two great citrus hybrids as there is for two great thin-crust pizzas or two great key lime pies.

Still, given the rivalry between citrus meccas Florida and California, I suspect that on some level there is a faceoff here, and with citrus being a multibillion-dollar industry, it’s not just pride everyone is playing for. Nor does it hurt that neither Honeybells nor Sumos are cheap and everywhere. They’re exotic treats, even slightly elusive, and worth the search.

Up here in New Jersey, where our winter climate is more like Switzerland. I will gather my stash of Sumos and Honeybells and that’s exactly who I will become.

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David Hinckley

David Hinckley wrote for the New York Daily News for 35 years. Now he drives his wife crazy by randomly quoting Bob Dylan and “Casablanca.”